A George Washington University employe, who was raped in what she said was a dimly lit and unguarded university parking garage, was awarded $800,000 in damages yesterday by a U.S. District Court jury that found the university negligent, according to the woman's lawyer.
"The charge was that the university knew this was a dangerous place, forced people to park there and did not take adequate measures to protect them," said Hamilton P. Fox, the woman's attorney. "In other words, they gave the rapist the opportunity to commit the crime."
Edwin A. Sheridan, who represented the university, said the university denied negligence in the case, which was tried before U.S. District Judge Barrington Parker.
"We are very disappointed in the verdict, which we believe to be improper and excessive," he said, adding that a motion for a new trial would be submitted to Parker next week.
A university spokesman refused to comment on the case.
The woman, who was raped in 1981 in an underground university garage where she was assigned to park, joined the growing ranks of women who have sued not the perpetrators of a rape but those they maintain contributed to the crime through negligence.
The woman reported the rape to police, but no one was apprehended, according to both attorneys in the case.
Fox said his client, a GWU staff member and Virginia resident, was raped and robbed shortly after 9 a.m. on Sept. 30, 1981, as she walked quickly toward a stairwell exit in the garage at 801 22nd St. NW.
Fox said she had driven to the garage's third underground level and was apprehensive about getting out of the car because it was dark. He said she waited for about 10 to 15 minutes, hoping that another car would pull in.
When none did, she left her car and "walked as fast as she could to the stairwell exit," but was "grabbed from behind and dragged back to her car," where she was raped, he said.
Fox said that the parking garage had been opened for a month and that his client and at least two other women had complained to university officials that the garage was too dark and that "construction workers who made remarks to them were moving about." According to Fox, their complaints were ignored.
Fox said a former GWU security official testified that the garage was guarded, but security logs showed no one was assigned to the garage.
Fox said the university maintained that his client was "contributorily negligent" because she was apprehensive on the morning of the rape but still got out of her car.
He said she suffers from a condition known as "post-traumatic stress disorder" as a result of the rape.